Great hammerhead shark

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Scientific name

Sphyrna mokarran

Family

Sphyrnidae

Size

Up to 20 feet

Lifespan

At least 42 years

Did you know?

The great hammerhead is the largest species of hammerhead shark, attaining an average length of 4.6 m and reaching a maximum length of 6.1 m.

About Great hammerhead sharks

The hammerhead sharks in the family Sphyrnidae are among the most uniquely adapted sharks, easily identifiable by their large, flattened hammer-shaped heads. The bizarre head shape maximizes their hunting abilities, and the shape and size functions to enhance maneuverability. The broad under surface provides ample space for electromagnetic-sensory organs called ampullae of Lorenzini, and their eyes are wide set and outward-facing, providing stereoscopic vision. 

Great hammerhead sharks use these super-powered senses to hone in on their favorite prey, stingrays, which are often buried in the sand during the day. Unfortunately, the very things that make them unique also make them extremely vulnerable to fishing: their heads get snagged in nets, and their peak-performance physiology makes them tire and die very quickly under stress when captured by hook and line. 

Diet

Great hammerheads primarily hunt along the seafloor, and their diet mostly consists of small bony fishes and elasmobranchs, such as rays and other sharks.

Distribution

Hammerhead sharks occur throughout the world’s oceans in depths ranging from surface waters to 300 m, though they tend to prefer the upper water column. Mostly seen close inshore, over the continental shelf, island terraces, and in passes and lagoons, they are primarily a coastal species that undertakes offshore migrations.

Fun facts

  • Great hammerheads swim on their sides to maximize their swimming efficiency and save energy. Their huge fins provide lift, like airplane wings.

Great hammerhead shark photo gallery

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